Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi on Monday announced “the end, failure, and collapse of the terrorist state of falsehood and terrorism” with victory in Mosul over the Islamic State (IS) amid jubilant scenes.
However, the symbolic ousting of IS from a city they have occupied for over three years may paper over the cracks, but the deep underlying socio-political crisis that contributed to the rise of IS remains largely unresolved.
IS was only defeated after the sacrifice of thousands of forces, a constant barrage of coalition air strikes since 2014, deaths of countless civilians, over a million displaced persons, untold human suffering and, not least, the destruction of much of the historic city.
When the euphoria of victory dies down, the price of success and the immense task that remains on the political, social, and security front will quickly dent short-term joy.
Victory celebrations in Mosul should not mask the political soul-searching required in Baghdad.
Why was IS able to swiftly sweep into a major city protected by thousands of well-armed Iraq forces? Moreover, is the sectarian climate that facilitated IS’ rise to power dealt with?
Long before IS, Mosul and other Sunni-dominated governorates in Iraq were hotbeds for al-Qaeda and other Sunni insurgent groups.
Several of these insurgent groups, and key Sunni tribes, entered into a marriage of convenience with IS.
There may not have been a common endorsement of IS ideology or their rule of law, but their hatred of Shia monopoly of power and Iranian meddling was stronger.
Now, the disfranchised Sunnis remain the key to the future security and stability of Mosul and their areas, but only if they can be enticed into the political and national fold.
Many of the same problems that blighted the sectarian landscape remain rife today. However, it remains unclear if Baghdad is ready to devolve powers to Sunnis.
Furthermore, much of the corruption and deep mistrust that has led to mass protests in the past against the Iraqi government remain.
If Baghdad had a difficult job in enticing the Sunnis before IS, then the roadmap for stability has become even more complicated.
According to the United Nations (UN), in the Old City alone, fighting resulted in the damage of over 5,000 buildings, with 490 destroyed.
Additionally, the UN believes over a billion dollars is required to reinstate basic services.
The sheer destruction of the city and the great suffering of millions of people will leave a deep scar that will be difficult to heal.
The aftermath of IS rule leaves behind not just mass destruction, but new political realities.
The borders between Kurdistan and Iraq have altered significantly, Iranian influence has only deepened, and Sunnis may well seize the opportunity for greater autonomy from Baghdad.
For the sake of long-term stability, Baghdad must make several key concessions, but doubts remain if it has a true post-IS stabilization and reconciliation plan, let alone the means to implement it.
Atheel al-Nujaifi, the governor of Nineveh when Mosul was captured in 2014, ominously stated: “We are back to where we were before Mosul fell, (because) there is an idea among the hardline Shia leadership to keep the liberated areas as loose areas, with no (local) political leadership, or security organizations, so they can control them.”
Kurdistan Region President Masoud Barzani, while emphasizing victory in Mosul does not equate to a return of stability in Iraq, stated, “I have a big concern about the future of the area. I hope I will be wrong.”
The local composition of future security forces will be vital in achieving any semblance of peace.
The gains against IS can be attributed to Iranian-backed Popular Mobilization Forces (Hashd al-Shaabi) as much as the Iraqi forces.
Reliance on militias sows seeds of further discord and conflict, especially without a strong Sunni military hand in their areas.
The Sahwa or Sunni Awakening Councils showed in 2008, as al-Qaeda was finally driven out of Sunni heartlands, a strong local Sunni force is vital.
However, Baghdad was constantly weary of empowering Sahwa forces, and the hesitancy to include them as part of state forces ultimately backfired.
The US-led coalition should not continuously support, train, and fund Iraqi forces, as it has done since 2003, without key prerequisites met by Baghdad.
Without the great support from the coalition, victory against IS would not be possible.
Likewise, the reconstruction of the battered cities will not be possible without significant international aid.
However, this aid should be provided under the provision of an all-encompassing plan from Baghdad.
As the old saying goes: Prevention is a better cure. Iraqis, along with international powers, can ill afford not to learn great lessons from the bitter fight against IS.
Either way, no matter what happens in the post-IS era, Iraq or its ethnosectarian mosaic will never be the same.
First Published: Kurdistan 24